A 1923 map showing the lands of Zebulun and Nap(htali) in Galilee at the time of Jesus. The Mediterranean Sea is to the west on the left and the River Jordan flows out of the south end of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is in the upper right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, while Nazareth is bottom-center, south of Cana, Matthew 4:14-15.

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[Jesus] left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.   Matthew 4:13-16.

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Perhaps you were like me, without a clue where the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali as mentioned in today’s readings were, so I found out: look at the map above. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, is in the land named for Zebulun, one of Joseph’s brothers, and Capernaum in the land of another brother, Naphtali, two of the fabled 12 Tribes of Israel, named after Joseph and his brothers. Isaiah’s prophesy, today’s first reading, concerning those lands was fulfilled with the arrival of the Messiah, as Jesus’ childhood was in the former, and his ministry began in the latter, today’s gospel. The prophesy describes Galilee (a land containing those two ancient tribal areas) as “Gentile”, non-Jewish. That was another mystery. The reason? 200 years or so before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, the Assyrians had conquered the northern state of Israel and exiled many of its inhabitants. They did not conquer Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah to the south, and so ever after that event the northern area was heavily, but not exclusively, Gentile. Hence Isaiah’s prophesy must have sounded a little strange to those who heard it. Yet it came to be, the fulfillment of the prophecy being today’s gospel. The light did shine out of in Galilee of the Gentiles.

capereaumThe remains of the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus began his ministry. The regular black basalt stone layer immediately below the Roman-age floor is believed to have been that of the Jewish synagogue at the time of Jesus, where he would have walked. Taken 2018 visit to the Holy Land.

Jesus received his vocation and identity, Messiah and Son of God respectively, at his baptism in the nearby Jordan by John, last week’s gospel. After his meditation in the nearby desert for 40 days, he emerged confident in both revelations, and began his ministry. The arrest, mentioned in today’s gospel, and eventual murder of John the Baptist, however, must have been a very hard blow; John was his cousin and the person instrumental in allowing him to discover who and what he was; it must have been devastating. But he was still the Messiah, sent by God to deliver his message of forgiveness, repentance,  hope and love to any and all who would listen. And this right there in the midst of the Gentiles who, Jews believed, were not to be part of the prophetic Jewish dominion to come. The fact that the Jewish dominion would in fact be a Christian dominion, led by none other than their Jewish Messiah, was to be achieved later. And clearly Jesus did this with absolute conviction and charisma, using his mighty powers, as many people dropped everything to follow him, some for the rest of their lives.

And that is, I think, today’s message to us, 2000 years later. We are Jesus’ descendants, the anointed of God and baptized into our vocation as christ to the world. Do you recall when and where you decided Jesus and his message were for you? When did it dawn on you that we must all forgive, repent and love as true Christians, no matter what the tribulations we may, and certainly will, encounter? Look at the picture above: that was where the Lord, now convinced of his vocation and identity, began to implement his call from God. Today it is now up to us to set an example of Christian living amid a world of non-Christians, just as Jesus did in his day. He drew on his absolute faith in God the Father, convinced he would never be alone, and even when that seemed to be true, never to yield to despair. God is ultimately the only reality we can absolutely trust to get us through anything. Jesus believed that from the first moments of his ministry to his death as a criminal on the cross. A clear, absolute conviction, unclouded by distractions as outlined in today’s second reading. We believe in that same God. To God alone be the glory, amen.

FOLLOWCome Follow Me, Jorge Cocco.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.



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